Istanbul, January 25, 2024 – The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday called on Turkish authorities to ensure justice in the case of journalist Sinan Aygül, who was hospitalized by an assault last year.
The 1st Tatvan Court of First Instance in the eastern province of Bitlis found Aygül, chief editor of the privately owned local news website Bitlis News and chair of the local trade group Bitlis Journalists Society, guilty of “insulting” two men who attacked him in June 2023 and sentenced the journalist to two months and five days in prison on Wednesday. The 2nd Tatvan Court of Serious Crimes imposed suspended sentences on the two on Thursday, according to local news reports. The attackers, Yücel Baysal and Engin Kaplan, both bodyguards for Tatvan Mayor Mehmet Emin Geylani of the ruling Justice and Development Party, were released from jail pending trial in September. The mayor has denied involvement in the attack.
“Yesterday, a court in Turkey sentenced journalist Sinan Aygül to prison time for allegedly insulting the men who assaulted and hospitalized him last year. Today, another court let these two men walk free with suspended sentences. This is beyond impunity; this is criminalizing the victim,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative, on Thursday. “Turkish authorities should stop impunity for physical attacks on journalists and ensure justice is done for Aygül, who is the real victim here.”
According to the local news reports, Baysali, who beat the journalist in an attack recorded on camera, and Kaplan, who blocked people trying to stop the beating, were both found guilty of “intentional injury” and each sentenced to 17 months and 15 days in prison. Kaplan was also found guilty of “threatening [someone] with a gun” on two counts and was sentenced to 20 months for each. Under Turkish law, the execution of all the sentences were suspended and will be dropped unless the defendants commit other crimes in the next five years.
Aygül told CPJ by phone after Thursday’s hearing that he was shocked and concerned about the outcome. “This verdict is a threat to our security of life. I’m speaking openly: we have no security of life because the killers now know that they won’t be punished when we are killed,” he said.
Aygül’s lawyers plan to file separate appeals against his conviction and the sentences imposed on his attackers, but they are not hopeful that the appeals will succeed, he told CPJ.
CPJ emailed the Bitlis chief prosecutor’s office but didn’t receive any reply.
CPJ was unable to contact the legal representatives for Baysal and Kaplan.